Texas

Texas House approves three bills loosening gun regulations

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas lawmakers moved Tuesday to make it even easier to carry firearms with a trio of bills approved by the state House - including one that could cost the state millions amid a sizeable budget crunch.
   
The chamber voted 111-30 to decrease gun licenses to $40, down from $140 for first-time permits and $70 for 5-year renewals. The move has already cleared the Texas Senate and now needs only a final House vote - which should come Wednesday - before Gov. Greg Abbott can sign it into law.
   
The decrease is expected to cost Texas nearly $22 million over the life of the 2018-2019 state budget that the Legislature is still devising. That's a significant number given that the prolonged oil price slump has left the state up to $6 billion short of being able to maintain current spending levels over the two-year life of the next budget.
   
Opponents warned the move could deplete funding for other priorities like public education, though those objections didn't stop the proposal from passing.
   
Supporters said Texas currently has some of the nation's highest fees for gun licenses, and that they are so costly that residents sometimes travel to neighboring states to get cheaper licenses that are still applicable back home because of reciprocity agreements.
   
When the bill was approved in the Senate, floor discussion focused on classes that are sometimes offered in Houston and elsewhere around Texas that help students obtain Florida gun licenses, since that state's license will work in Texas but has lower fees.
   
Abbott, meanwhile, has said he would go as far as eliminating all fees associated with obtaining a gun license. The original Senate bill called for doing just that, but was scaled-back to soften the financial impact.
   
Also passed Tuesday using a simple voice vote was a proposal allowing volunteer firefighters and medical services volunteers to bring guns into restricted areas. That bill is designed to allow first responders who carry concealed handguns to handle emergencies without the delay of storing their guns. There was no debate but opponents have previously noted that the volunteers are not trained to handle firearms in such high-stress environments.
   
A third proposal approved Tuesday would allow license applicants take handgun proficiency courses online, rather than in the classroom. They would still be required to complete at least one hour of shooting range instruction before completing the shooting test at the end of the class.

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